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News Analysis 19 Aug 2020 - 6 min read

Chasing the 'holy grail': old-time radio audience diaries meet new world streaming in hybrid shake-up of radio audience measurement

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Zenith Head of Investment Elizabeth Baker: “A single-source approach comes with its own difficulties but as other streaming players continue to evolve, radio will need to catch-up.”

An archaic survey-based ratings system that was iced because of COVID and booming audio streaming is finally accelerating a shake-up of the radio industry’s audience measurement system. Media buyers want a hybrid model blending current diary-based listening data with digital streaming figures but are broadcasters on board?

What you need to know:
  • COVID has achieved double-digit growth in audio streaming.
  • Industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) claims listener behaviour has become more consistent across the day because more people are working from home.
  • The pandemic saw traditional radio surveys put on hold in April following survey two.
  • Survey six is currently underway, with the first results expected to be released on September 29.
  • Agencies are calling on CRA to create a new hybrid measurement model covering streaming and traditional data.
  • Although hybrid data is regarded by some as the “holy grail” of audience measurement, media buyers are sceptical that broadcasters can create an effective hybrid system.
  • CRA CEO Joan Warner says conversations are underway with radio major networks to merge the two sets of data.
  • Australian Radio Network boss Ciaran Davis says the combination of surveys and streaming data will help radio take share back from rivals such as Spotify.
  • He says the music streaming service has gotten a “free kick” from radio due to its measurement differences.

 

Surveying and streaming

It is a familiar story across the media industry this year: audience numbers have spiked because of the pandemic, while advertising revenue has collapsed.

The 20.39% collapse in the radio industry’s advertising revenue is in sharp contrast to what is happening with its audiences. Commercial radio reached 82.4% of Australians in June, according to data from industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and its research partner GfK, up from 76.9% in Survey 2 and an average of 77.3% across 2019.

CRA CEO Joan Warner claims listenership has “never been higher”, as measured by traditional audience surveys and streaming numbers.

Warner is, of course, shooting in the dark to some degree, as the industry’s traditional audience measurement system – which consists of people writing down their listening habits in paper diaries – had to be paused in April because of the pandemic.

Diaries resumed earlier this month, including in Melbourne, with the results for survey six (which covers the period from July 26 to September 19) to be released on September 29.

Over the past four months, the radio industry has been pushing its streaming numbers as an alternative to the survey data. Warner says that while in-car listening dropped 15% during COVID lockdowns, at-home listening jumped 19%, driven by streaming and more consistent listenership.

“Traditional broadcast remains the main means of consuming radio, but the double-digit growth in streaming month-on-month can’t be ignored,” Warner says.

“Last month we got numbers from Google that showed we had 380,000 unique streams listening to commercial radio through their smart speakers.

“That’s a considerable number of listeners, with their own unique accounts, that radio may not have had before [and is] something we know advertisers are finding increasingly valuable,” she says.

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) claims its audiences continue to embrace digital radio platforms and are listening longer and more often. It says it racked up 10.1 million listening hours in July, up 30% on July 2019. Its smart speaker audience in July was 2.1 million listening hours, up 69% year on year, with an average session duration of two hours and 20 minutes.

For Nova Entertainment, time spent listening to digital radio was up 19% in June and 14% in July compared to the same months in 2019, which it attributes to people working from home keeping the radio on throughout the day.

“Described as pandemic ‘comfort food’, live radio streaming, subscription services and podcasts increased,” Ros Allison, Head of Group Performance, Magna Australia, says.

“People switched on to be informed during COVID, seeking light-hearted diversion through comedy and music, and just to hear a friendly human voice in the background.”

Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) podcasting and catch-up radio service iHeartRadio grew 22% in March-May this year compared with the preceding three months. Catch-up radio listening on the platform was up 33% in the same period and continues to see consistent listenership.

“Radio is seeing quite a strong uplift in total usage, which is fantastic, and it tells the full story of the medium to marketers,” SCA Chief Sales Officer Brian Gallagher says.

“The issue now is whether or not radio takes the right amount of share from the advertising pie and the short answer is no.

“As an industry we're focused on introducing to the market an audience methodology that allows them to take full advantage of the broadcast and the in-stream audience.”

 

Measurement’s ‘Holy Grail’

Gallagher is alluding to the combination of radio surveys and radio streaming data.

The conversation has been ongoing for many years, with agencies arguing the survey method is increasingly out-dated.

“It’s always had its ups and downs. You constantly hear ‘I can’t remember where I put my wallet 10 minutes ago, let alone the station I listened to three days prior’,” one agency source told Mi3 on the condition of anonymity.

“Then you’ve got the audio watch system in the UK and US. Ask them how that’s working out and they’ll tell you it’s not ideal to say the least.”

Zenith’s newly promoted Head of Investment, Elizabeth Baker, told Mi3 radio’s biggest opportunity is to invest in a single-source cross-platform measurement system. She says it will help planners and buyers optimise to audio and provide clarity around the combined impact of linear, streaming and podcasting campaigns.

“It’s a huge opportunity to really harness the full power of audio and something that COVID has only further highlighted a need for,” Baker says.

“A single-source approach comes with its own difficulties but as other streaming players continue to evolve, radio will need to catch-up.”

GroupM’s Chief Digital Strategy Officer Venessa Hunt says a hybrid of survey and streaming data is the most likely outcome “at this stage”.

She says a new measurement system that covers every touchpoint in the radio sector would be “invaluable” for clients.

“If you take what TV is doing with VOZ data, while not perfect, it’s the step in the right direction [and will show] audiences are consuming content on different channels or devices,” Hunt says.

“That’s the opportunity for radio: showing marketers that [the radio networks] understand the behavioural nuances of why people are going to a podcast versus radio in the morning or being able to follow the consumer throughout the listening journey.

“By being able to outline how audiences are evolving but staying within the radio sector through a unified and accepted measurement model is only going to encourage clients to spend further,” she says.

PHD Group Trading Director Bill Luu says hybrid data is “the holy grail” of radio measurement. He says streaming figures provide an indicator to the overall performance of audio as a channel, but while consumption has increased, it continues to be seen as a secondary medium to traditional broadcast.

“There are ongoing advancements and developments in this space and there is no doubt radio trading will evolve along with other channels,” Luu says.

“Should the technology to enable a new metric [to cover total audio] be developed, a new currency could ultimately evolve the way we trade.”

Luu is referring to the announcement made this month regarding a unified buying and trading platform for the sector, RadioMatrix.

Nineteen agencies will participate in the pilot program, which will give them a single interface to connect with 370 radio stations and collaborate on media campaigns in real-time, from any location.

“RadioMatrix will simplify access to broadcast radio inventory, to make it easier for the media buyers to get their briefs out and their responses back and their assessment completed,” Gallagher says.

“This takes large amounts of email trails out of play, giving them more efficient paperless access to trading radio without discriminating against any of the radio operators.

 

Are the operators ready?

Agencies might have their doubts, but CRA’s Joan Warner says conversations about changing radio’s audience measurement strategy are happening.

“We've all got to be talking the same language, not out in market quoting different stats,” she says.

“That's one of the things we're focusing on as we move towards next year. How do we give the clients the insights that they need into not only broadcast but [also] the addressable streaming audiences?”

ARN CEO Ciaran Davis says agencies have appreciated the efforts of his network to provide deeper insights into streaming numbers during the pandemic. However, he says there is also still some cynicism as to why there isn’t more industry unity in how they are distributed.

“What it has really done is fast-tracked how the CRA and its members develop a uniform approach to digital audio streaming data that we all buy into, similar to GfK’s survey data,” Davis says.

Gallagher says 2021 will be the year of radio “diversifying the methodology of audience collection”. He says the industry is focused on introducing an audience methodology that allows agencies to take full advantage of the broadcast and the in-stream audience opportunity.

“Ideally, we'd like to be able to show buyers how those things work together and certainly we're very focused on that,” he says.

“Next year will be the year where the proposed changes really ramp up - a combination of online diaries, paper diaries, streaming data and potentially passive listening.”

Nova’s Chief Commercial Officer, Peter Charlton, says the ideal outcome would be to “marry the diary mechanism” with a system that gives agencies live access to streaming data.

“By being able to track the performance of an ad on a smart speaker, we as networks will have a more granular view of its effectiveness,” Charlton says.

“Should the campaign prove more valuable on a smart speaker then we can start driving audiences down that avenue through our linear on-air broadcasts.

“We can then understand more about the consumer because we have a digital interaction with them that provides first-party data, which we can then overlayed with second- or third-party data and provide agencies with a complete view of the listener”

Snaring share Spotify share

A new measurement system could also help radio claw back the ground it has lost to audio streaming giants such as Spotify.

Davis says Spotify has had a “free kick for too long” while radio has played catch up in the in-stream advertising race.

“We as an industry need to move faster with our addressable media [and] first-party data, and make it easier for agencies and clients to book with us, similar to what Spotify offers at the moment,” Davis says.

“There will always be the fight for broadcast radio share, but we should be focusing a lot more on tackling digital giants, because we are creating better content.”

Davis says Spotify lacks fully-integrated programming that can be rounded out with targeted addressable advertising.

He says as that as the radio industry’s trading, buying and measurement evolves, something like pre, post and mid-roll advertising during a Spotify playlist will lose its appeal compared to a “multi-faceted” radio campaign.

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

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